A Fine Balance: Using Our Collective Power for Good in Hawai‘i

The Ko’oloa’ula is an endangered plant in the mallow family that grows on Maui and many other islands in Hawai'i. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Ko’oloa’ula is an endangered plant in the mallow family that grows on Maui and many other islands in Hawai'i. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Photo of Gary Langham

As AAG prepares for our 2024 annual meeting, I have talked with and worked beside AAG thought leaders and Kānaka representatives, seeking the greatest possible benefit to Hawaiians and Hawai‘i. AAG President Rebecca Lave has described the recommendations and actions from these discussions in her July and August articles, as well as this month’s. Let me add my thoughts and perspectives.

A recent article from The Guardian on the devastating fires on Maui brought home the urgency and complexity of what we are trying to accomplish. Climate change has already plagued the islands for decades. Now, in the wake of the fire, so much more has been lost, from the lives lost and missing to the immense cultural treasures and shared community memories of places that are now gone. Businesses and livelihoods are lost and will take months and years to rebuild if they can return. To add insult to injury, in Lahaina, a former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom that burnt to the ground, predatory land speculators are already harassing local property owners, aiming to capitalize on the destruction. Maui is recovering from COVID-19 and depends on tourism for its economy, with about 75% of its workforce reliant upon it. The question of whether, when, and how to accept visitors is uppermost in many Mauians’ minds: “For so many people to face economic uncertainty or challenges, on top of those who have lost everything in the fire – it compounds the issues and prolongs the recovery,” said T Ilihia Gionson, a public affairs officer for the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. “That is the risk of discouraging travel to Hawaii generally. It’s a fine balance.”

“Going forward, I don’t know if it’s less tourism, but I think more mindful tourism,” Trisha Kehaulani Watson of ʻĀina Momona told The Guardian. “We have to think about enhancing and evolving the visitor experience to be one that invites people who can contribute to Hawaii, as opposed to just taking from us.” [To aid Maui, see our resources here.]

What is happening now in Maui reinforces what is at stake in our effort to live up to our best when visiting Honolulu. We must find ways to leverage our members’ collective talents and AAG’s resources to support the lives of the people living where we will convene. We also must provide attendance choices supporting individual decisions to join us in person, virtually, or at one of the regional nodes. We must educate our members about Hawaiian history, culture, and current issues in a discursive, mutual way, not extractive. Even as we look to lighten our carbon footprint, we must be mindful of our whole footprint and tread with care.

Our Work to Be Good Guests in Honolulu

AAG met in January for in-depth discussions with Kānaka people, geographers, and community members. Their feedback made us realize the issue was not whether we would come to Honolulu but how. They emphasized the need for reciprocity and mindfulness of where we were and what we could bring to replenish it. The AAG immediately agreed to implement all the recommendations suggested by the Kānaka community. For example, I am working with our engagement leader, Neil Hannahs, to develop webinars to help attendees learn more about these themes in the run-up to the annual meeting.  Attend one of AAG’s educational webinars on Hawai‘i

We are now working to implement the other recommendations from these conversations. Kānaka geographers and local people with a range of knowledge are being engaged in developing themes for the annual meeting that center on their issues and concerns, such as US militarism, food sovereignty, and colonial legacies. Field trips and events will be paired with these themes to create meaningful experiences on the Island. AAG will also work with interested specialty groups to select Hawaiian keynote speakers and foreground Kānaka themes. Kānaka Maoli and other Pacific Basin Indigenous groups receive free registration, and AAG will provide free vendor space and publicity for local Kānaka-owned businesses.

It is important to note that one of our most important potential contributions to the meeting is also the most contested and potentially challenging to manage: the presence of thousands of geographers whose work is to understand space and place and respond to the most critical issues of the day. Bringing them into learning and collaborating with Hawaiian community leaders, academics, and others could be one of the great legacies of the 2024 meeting – if we act with care and visit with mindfulness.

Reducing Our Overall Climate Change Impact

In late 2021, AAG asked members what actions they wished AAG to take to reduce climate change impacts. Here is what you said:

Bar chart taken from an AAG survey on climate showing actions members would like to see AAG take, the top of which is taking a role in policy and advocacy for climate action.
This bar chart depicts results from a survey of AAG members. Among the 93% who urged AAG to take leadership on climate change, the top suggestion was that AAG take a role in policy and advocacy for climate action.
Taking Responsibility: AAG Acts on Climate Change


Since then, AAG has made significant strides across all of these categories. AAG continues to engage in policy and advocacy, from supporting member attendance at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) to promoting our members’ authorship of key elements of global climate change assessment; from the focus on Climate and Society as our inaugural theme for the new Elevate the Discipline media and advocacy training program for geographers, to actions at key flexion points in the public discourse, including sign-on letters and statements calling on the United States to address climate change).

AAG has also now completely divested from fossil fuels. We continue to work on reducing carbon emissions associated with travel to meetings (virtual options, nodes). We reduced the emissions at our headquarters and day-to-day by moving to a LEED Gold building and adopting a hybrid-plus-remote workweek. In short, we’ve made excellent progress.

The AAG Annual Meeting in Denver had a 36% reduction in carbon emissions, compared to the 2010 baseline from our report.

Reducing our emissions from travel to meetings is related to the AAG pledge to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030, relative to our 2010 meeting. To measure this, we adopted a method to estimate carbon from travel. Our first meeting since developing the approach was in Denver. Denver had a 36% reduction compared to the 2010 baseline (6663 vs. 10,414 tCO2) and a 58% reduction compared to our 2015-2019 average (16,244 tCO2). Some of this reduction was due to changes in in-person attendance, but also from new options like virtual participation and nodes. Our analysis showed that attendees further from Denver were more likely to attend a node or attend virtually. All this suggests that we are on track to meet our 2030 goals. Meeting our net-zero goals by 2050 will require new approaches.

Leveraging Institutional Power

In August, we met with the AAG Environment and Energy Specialty Group (EESG) to consider options for addressing the 2024 meeting’s carbon footprint. We are working with them and the Climate Task Force on this issue.

Those meetings reinforced the importance of the hybrid meeting and regional attendance nodes, not only to reduce the carbon burden but also for preserving our members’ ability to choose the kind of meeting they wish to attend. Meeting with EESG also reminded me of our ability and responsibility to act on our collective buying power with our hotels and other vendors. For example, hotels are slowly starting to adopt net-zero standards. These efforts should be evaluated carefully but also supported and championed. Imagine this: if AAG and similar academic societies used its collective economic influence to accelerate the adoption of net-zero buildings at all our meeting venues, how much more carbon would be saved compared to anything we could do as individuals.

As we work toward an AAG Annual Meeting that can be truly responsive and respectful of the place and people hosting us, I also think about power, its uses, and its proportions. I think about what I can accomplish on behalf of our membership that I cannot accomplish as an individual. I felt helpless when I saw the devastating wildfires on Maui in mid-August in a summer of extreme heat, fires, and floods worldwide. Nevertheless, I reflect on my ability to bring some change at scale on behalf of AAG to transform how we convene and channel our collective power for the greater good.

Please note: The ideas expressed by Executive Director Gary Langham are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. Please feel free to email him at glangham [at] aag [dot] org.



Kumulipo: Hawaiian Explication of Creation 

Hawai‘i Habitation: Consequences of Human Values 

Restoring Waiwai: Redefining Wealth to Foster Health & Abundance 

On the Map: Where Were You When?

Illustration showing Earth in the Early Carboniferous period by Christopher Scotese
Earth in the Early Carboniferous period. Source: Christopher Scotese

By Allison Rivera

It is no secret that the Earth has drastically changed throughout history, though it can be hard to capture evidence of its evolution. Thanks to the innovative work of software engineer Ian Webster, you can explore Earth’s transformations in real time. Webster created an interactive “Ancient Earth” experience using the revolutionary work of palaeogeographer Christopher Scotese.

I always wanted to build a time machine. These maps allow me to travel back through time.

—Christopher Scotese

Scotese’s love and inspirations for paleogeography began during his childhood, when he would dream of traveling back in time. He recalls his ambitions from a young age: “I have had an interest in Earth History since childhood. During my summer vacations (age 8-10), I started a journal entitled A Review of Earth History by Eras and Periods. I always wanted to build a time machine. These maps allow me to ‘travel back through time.’”

It was from these ideas that his Atlas project was born. The Paleogeographic Atlas project began during his undergraduate career at the University of Illinois (Chicago). It was first published as what could be described as “flip books,” with some computer animations. It was not until his graduate career when the Atlas was updated to include principal scientific areas such as plate tectonics, paleomagnetism, and paleogeography. Despite other paleogeographic maps having been published at the time, these maps were noteworthy. The Atlas Project was the first to illustrate plate tectonics and paleogeographic evolution of the Earth. Scotese was also the first person to write software to animate the history of plate motions. However, he did face some challenges along the way. He noted that the greatest obstacle of the project was that “It takes a long time to accumulate the knowledge and experience to tell this story.” He is now writing a book titled The History of the Earth System, allowing him to compile the mass of information he has accrued over the years. Scotese also knew that updating the maps was no easy feat, and, with the help of many colleagues, has continued to integrate new and improved scientific ideas into the Atlas.

Scotese made sure to take many ideas into account from various scientists. Having worked with paleoclimatologist Judy Parish to incorporate paleoclimatic interpretations in the reconstructions of the Earth, he was able to develop a parametric climate model. Furthermore, Scotese used linear magnetic anomaly data and satellite imagery to create a model for Mesozoic and Cenozoic plate and ocean basin reconstruction. While his work paved the way for the current knowledge and understanding of time periods such as the Mesozoic and Cenozoic, those such as the Paleozoic remain unknown. Here, the map is based on information and results presented in a symposium on Paleozoic Paleogeography. The oldest map of the Atlas was the last to be assembled, but is based on a model Proterozoic plate tectonics, developed by Scotese and other geographers. From this, they were able to conclude that the Proterozoic was a time of Rodinia supercontinent assembly and breakup. Each map incorporates some form of scientific data and knowledge, making it as accurate as possible.

Despite the amount of collaboration, research, and time that went into this groundbreaking project, Scotese describes it as ongoing. The Atlas only describes the current knowledge and understanding of ancient Earth. As with any science project, new data and findings are always emerging, which leads to the need for constant updates and improvements to the Atlas. To keep up with new information, Scotese has a vision for a digital Atlas. Combining scientific data with technology such as GIS will allow for not only improved user friendliness but also easier compilation of data. Programs such as Paleo-GIS will be the foundation for the next version of the Atlas. In addition, Scotese is working with a group of scientists to add other Earth System information such paleoclimate, paleoenvironmental, biogeographic, and palaeoceanographic information.

Even though Webster’s project is based on the old version of the Atlas, it still has many features that make it easy to understand and educational. His work gives people living in today’s world a sense of connectedness to the ancient earth through time.

View Christopher Scoteses’s website Explore Ian Webster’s visualization of Dr. Scotese’s work


DOI: 10.14433/2017.0134


Aloha Aku, Aloha Mai: Aloha Given, Aloha Received

AAG Welcomes Spring 2023 Interns

Two new interns have joined the AAG staff this semester! The AAG would like to welcome Iman and Allison to the organization.

Photo of Iman SmithIman Smith is a junior at the University of Maryland, pursuing a B.S. in Geographical Sciences and a minor in Geographic Information Systems. Her areas of interest include agricultural monitoring and crop management, and global food security. In her spare time, Iman likes to travel, crochet, make pottery, and she also hosts a college radio show.

Photo of Allison RiveraAllison Rivera is a senior at the University of Connecticut pursuing a B.S. in Geoscience and a minor in Geography. She is mostly interested in geomorphology and physical geography and is currently completing a senior thesis on such topics. After graduation, Allison hopes to attend graduate school and pursue further research in the field of geomorphology. In her spare time, she enjoys watching cartoons, going for walks, and reading.

If you or someone you know is interested in applying for an internship at the AAG, the AAG seeks interns on a year-round basis for the spring, summer, and fall semesters.

Learn more about becoming an AAG intern

Gerry A. Hale

Gerry Hale, a long-time, much-loved professor in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, died on October 14, 2022.

Born in 1933 in Los Angeles, Gerry (pronounced “Gary”) was raised in the neighboring city of Glendale. He attended UCLA as both an undergraduate and graduate student. In the early 1960s, while conducting fieldwork in Sudan, Gerry served as the Head Geography Master at Unity High School for Girls in Khartoum and as a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Khartoum. Before and after his time in Sudan, he also taught at the University of Southern California. In 1966, working under the direction of Dr. Joseph Spencer, he completed his Ph.D. dissertation on agricultural terracing in Sudan’s Darfur region. Soon thereafter, he joined the UCLA Department of Geography as a tenure-track faculty member.

A political and cultural geographer, Gerry’s teaching and research focused on technology, nationalism, the state, cultural hegemony, capitalism, anti-colonialism and empire, and Marxist geography. His regional specializations were in North Africa, the Middle East, and California.

Photo of Sondra and Gerry Hale in their house in Hai el-Matar, Khartoum, Sudan, 1961.Photographer: unknown.
Sondra and Gerry Hale in their house in Hai el-Matar, Khartoum, Sudan, 1961. Photographer: unknown.

A combination of factors—ranging from witnessing pervasive racial injustice in Glendale and exposure to the early years of postcolonial life in Lebanon (where he studied as a M.A. student) and in Africa, to the horrors of the U.S. war in Vietnam—radicalized Gerry. By the late 1960s, he saw himself as Marxist—politically as well as intellectually.

Consistent with his politics—a combination of democratic socialism, feminism, and anti-racism—Gerry was involved in Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography from its initial days. As the journal’s structure became more formalized, he served on the editorial board from 1978 to 1985.

Gerry’s politics also underlay his intense dedication to students. He was the advisor to approximately a dozen Ph.D. students who went on to academic careers, and to scores of Master’s students—in Geography as well as in the African Studies M.A. Program, for which he served as director for some years, and in the Center for Near Eastern Studies. He was also the Department of Geography’s undergraduate and graduate advisor during the 1990s. In these roles Gerry was known to be a strong supporter of women faculty and students.

Because of his politics, life at UCLA in Gerry’s earlier years as a faculty member were often difficult given the strongly conservative ethos that permeated the institution. Changing times and, more importantly, Gerry’s generous spirit, ethical character, collegiality, and dedication as a teacher of undergraduate and graduates alike eventually won over most, if not all, of his detractors. By the time of his retirement circa 1997, Gerry was a highly valued and universally appreciated citizen of the Department and the University as a whole; he was a member of some of the most prestigious bodies on campus, such as the Committee on Privilege and Tenure.

A strong sense of justice motivated much of what Gerry Hale did as a geographer. Many of those who were fortunate enough to take an undergraduate course with him, for example, learned about what happened to the predominately working class and Mexican-descended community of Chavez Ravine. Beginning in 1951, the City of Los Angeles used eminent domain to expel the area’s residents and raze their homes—in the name of public housing which never arrived. Instead, years later, the city sold the land to the Los Angeles Dodgers to build a baseball stadium.

As one former student, now a historian, recalled in relation to Gerry’s telling of the story, “When I was growing up in Echo Park (a Los Angeles neighborhood), I didn’t know this history. I don’t think most people know it today. I learned it once I got to UCLA, in a geography class with Gerry Hale. He was not even a Chicano, but a white man who engaged in a one-man boycott of Dodger Stadium, having made a personal commitment to never go to ballgames because of what had happened on the land on which Dodger Stadium sits.”

Gerry Hale is survived by his longtime partner, Sondra Hale, professor emeritus of Anthropology and Gender Studies at UCLA, and their daughters, Alexa and Adrienne, as well as by countless others whose lives he touched.

Provided by Garth Myers (Trinity College) and Joseph Nevins (Vassar College).